Olympic skeleton racer meets future athletics stars

FORMER Winter Olympic skeleton racer and beach sprint champion Melissa Hoar was excited to meet and learn about the latest achievements of two of Narooma’s youngest sports stars.

She caught up with Lilly Bennett and Connor Griffiths on Monday at Narooma Surf Beach where she began her own sporting career.

“Keep training hard and keep working for it,” was her message to the kids who one day would also like to represent their country.

“Don’t give up on a dream because dreams can and definitely do come true.

“It takes a lot of hard work and support to keep doing it, especially when your friends aren’t doing it, but if you want it enough, you can do it.”

While Melissa just announced her retirement from international skeleton competition after narrowly missing out on qualifying for the Sochi Games, cousins Lilly and Connor have just been selected to attend a Little Athletics training camp and competition in Canada in July.

A fundraiser at Club Narooma this Saturday evening has been organised to help with travel expenses, and while the trivia tables have been fully booked, the families would love to see everyone there for the auction.

Just this last weekend, the two young athletes did extremely well at the Lanyon Carnival were Lilly broke a 13-year-old record in the long jump with a 5.02-metre leap and not to be outdone, Connor broke a six-year-old record in the 100 metres.

Lilly also qualified for the State Surf Life Saving competition after winning the flag event at the recent regionals at Mollymook.

Sporting achievement runs in the Bennett family with everyone from their great grandmother "also named Lilly" to grandparents Bob and Trish, father Justin and Tanya (Connor's mother) to Lilly's mum doing well in athletics.

For Melissa, her career began at the surf club where her natural abilities in beach sprinting were quickly recognised and she competed on the state and national level until the age of 22.

She was then fortunate to be picked by the Australian Institute of Sport’s talent transfer program that allowed her to learn the sport of skeleton and compete on the Olympic level around the world.

Melissa finished 12th in the skeleton at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Monday’s meeting was not actually the first, as Melissa after attaining a teaching degree briefly was Lilly’s teacher at Narooma Public School.

She has now gone on to study a chiropractic degree in California and has one year left before graduating.

Her visit to Narooma has been timed to coincide with the marriage of her brother Matt, the chef at The Whale Motel restaurant and also an accomplished surfer, that takes place early next month.

“I would love to come back and live in Australia – it is the most beautiful country,” Melissa said, but first she will have to convince her boyfriend, who like her dad pharmacist Jim hails from Canada.

The fun filled night for Lilly and Connor is this Saturday in the “Montague Room” at Club Narooma.

Doors open at 5.30pm, trivia starts at 6pm and the main auction of donated items will start at 8pm.

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